A longtime leader in the Joplin community, Bob Higgins, died Thursday. He was 98 years old.
Higgins, who was born in Joplin, served as Joplin postmaster from 1973 to 1986, having begun working for the postal service in 1945. Both during and after that time, he served on numerous boards and worked for numerous causes in the area.
A graduate of Joplin Junior College, he later served on the Board of Regents of what was at the time Missouri Southern State College. He is a past president of the Alumni Association and was given the Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1974. He directed fundraising campaigns for both Taylor Auditorium and Hughes Stadium.
“Bob was a great friend to Missouri Southern as well as to the community at large,” MSSU President Alan Marble said in a statement. “He was caring, thoughtful and truly compassionate. He will be missed by everyone fortunate enough to have known him.”
Higgins also was a past president of the Lionbackers, an organization that he helped start in 1968. He was the organization's first donor, and continued to support it for the next 52 years.
From 1971 to 1979, he served on the Missouri Council on Public Higher Education. In 2017, he endowed the Bob and Bea Higgins Nursing Scholarship at MSSU to help nursing students receive their four-year degree.
Higgins also served on the board of directors of Freeman Health System from 1979 to 1992, and was elected chairman of the board in 1988. In that role, he helped raise funds and served as a leader as the hospital expanded services. He also helped start the local chapter of the Children’s Miracle Network, launching and running for 21 years an annual golf tournament to raise funds for CMN.
The Robert A. Higgins Medical Office Building was dedicated in his honor in 1992.
Higgins and his wife also were the namesake for the Children’s Miracle Network's Higgins Heroes program, which worked with sick and injured children by providing Hero Packs for pediatric patients and NICU families, a toy inventory, community education and a remodel of the pediatric waiting room. It was launched in 2016.
"Bob Higgins was an integral part of the hospital's governing body and supporter of this hospital's mission, but equally important was his love for children and the people of the Joplin community," said Paula Baker, president and CEO of Freeman. "His care and support touched all members of the Freeman family, but he especially had a heart for children and became their hero — donning a cape and smile as he rallied for pediatric patients with the Higgins Heroes program. During his tenure as board president, the Freeman Physician’s Group was introduced. And while a medical building bears his name, Bob leaves a legacy of inspiration by believing that people united can make a difference in improving the health and well-being of those around us.”
Higgins was named Outstanding Citizen of the Year by the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce in 1990. He also was a former director of the Kiwanis Foundation board, a board member and former director of the Joplin United Way and a board member of the Joplin Family Y.
While serving on the Tri-County Cerebral Palsy board, he helped launch the annual Kiwanis apple sales that lasted for more than 40 years to support the center and other charities in the community.
Higgins, who was born in 1922, enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps on Oct. 6, 1942, and in May of 1944 earned his wings and was assigned to teach flying to twin-engine pilots. He was stationed in Liberal, Kansas, where he few B-17s and B-24s. He was discharged in 1945.
Higgins also taught Sunday school for 25 years. He was a longtime member of the First Community Church. At different times, he served on the board for First Community Church and for St. Paul’s United Methodist Church.
Interment is scheduled for Wednesday. A celebration of life will be held later, according to family.